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State Of The Irish Church
The Irish Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

Sir, - Cardinal Cahal Daly (Opinion, January 26th) claims that the media got it wrong recently when they predicted the death or terminal decline of Catholic Christianity in Ireland. With all due respect, may I suggest that it is His Eminence who has got it wrong!

I'm sure that the priests in his former diocese have indeed painted a rosy picture for the Cardinal when he has contacted them to ask how the troops are doing. When I was a curate in the Diocese of Down and Connor (1978-1986) I witnessed priests painting a rosy (and wholly inaccurate) picture for the then bishop - Cahal Daly - and I saw the bishop accept the portrait unquestioningly. Those of us who tried to tell the unpalatable truth ended up, in one way or another "off the road"!

In the past 30 years 120,000 priests have left the Church - many to marry - a thousand of those from Ireland. Most priests and many bishops believe that celibacy should be optional but their voices are not listened to. As a result a large proportion of priests are engaged in secret relationships of both the heterosexual and homosexual varieties. Most of Ireland's seminaries have closed and the numbers entering the national seminary at Maynooth are a fraction of what they used to be.

My support group for women in relationships with priests - Bethany - now has 110 members from every diocese in Ireland. Six of those women have priest's children and a further four have had abortions. Even His Eminence must realise that this represents a major crisis in the Irish and universal priesthood.

There are tens of thousands of separated and divorced Catholics living in "second unions" scattered throughout every Irish diocese and parish. I've married some 4,000 of them in the past 14 years. These people are told by the Hierarchy that they are "living in sin" and are not allowed to take Holy Communion and the Sacraments. Most of them feel so hurt, alienated and angry that they never go near church. Jesus told us to go after the one lost sheep. Do these 80,000 uncared for "lost sheep" not represent a huge indictment of Cardinal Daly's church?

And what of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered "community" representing perhaps anything from five to 25 per cent of our Christian community? They too are alienated and are virtually left by the Church as sheep without a shepherd receiving nothing but condemnation and absurd exhortations to a lifetime of celibacy!

Priests in Longford, Belfast and Armagh may be telling the octogenarian Cardinal that all is well. But far from it. Sixty per cent of Catholics may go to Mass in Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. But what of Ballymun in Dublin, where 12 per cent attend? Not indeed that church-going is the best gauge of anyone's true spirituality.

As one of the Reformers said: "What Christ preached was a Kingdom and what we got was a church"! The "Catholic Christianity" that Cardinal Daly is referring to is dying, and thank God for it. We don't need the "Catholic Christianity" of Cardinal Paul Cullen, Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Eamon de Valera, the Mother and Child controversy, the Ne Temere decree, A Love Divided, Angela's Ashes, Father Brendan Smyth, Letterfrack, Artane, Goldenbridge and the ecclesiastical personalities who engaged in all the cover-ups.

We need a new Catholic Christianity, based not on Canon Law and the control of the many by the few, but instead on the enlightened interpretation of Scripture wedded to the wisdom that comes from the joys and pains of each person's personal spiritual journey. In other words we must put aside religion and rediscover spirituality.

(Most Rev) Patrick Buckley,
Presiding Bishop,
The Oratory Society,
Larne, Co Antrim.